Fitting Into Life

As November drew to a close, there were several things I was still scrambling to accomplish before the end of the year. Since I only needed a few hundred dollars more a month to live comfortably, I had begun working with vocational rehabilitation. I had started working with them in July, but to date that still had yielded no opportunities. Then Hennepin County held an employment fair at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The convention center is located a block away from my building, so it would be an ideal way to reintroduce myself to the rigors of the blind job-seeking process.

The counselor from vocational rehab was supposed to meet me at noon, so I arranged for an 11:00 shuttle to the convention center. That way I could arrive early and walk around meeting people on my own. I had not tested my left leg for walking endurance; I would spend time on my feet but then rest as needed before the vocational rehab counselor got there. I put on a set of business casual clothes. Even though I couldn’t wear my leg brace, walking was easier because my clothes felt lighter. Feeling more professional also added a spring to my step.

After Metro Mobility dropped me off at the convention center, I had to walk to the rear of a long hallway and take an elevator to the second floor. I had expected that amount of walking to tire me out before I even entered the room for the job fair, but it didn’t. It seldom occurs to me at the time, but the amount of intense weightlifting I do has a great effect on my endurance. I’m slow getting around, but I don’t run out of energy very often. When I made it to the registration desk, I found that the employment fair had not even started yet. I took a packet and sat down to fill out a registration form.

As I filled out the form, I noticed how much my eyesight and penmanship had improved. When I had moved back to Minnesota two years ago, I would have needed someone else to fill out the form for me, if it was going to be legible. Being able to do it myself saved me a great deal of humiliation. It made me feel like an applicant as opposed to a charity case. I finished filling out the form with over thirty minutes until the start of the fair.

The vocational rehab counselor was slow getting back to me, so I went into the event alone. I just began walking up to each table and asking what they were presently hiring for. If the positions sounded remotely like something I could do, I would take a business card so I could apply online. The more employers I talked to, the less intimidated I was. Soon I had gone to every table in the room. When I was satisfied that I had collected all the cards I needed, I left the room and found a chair to sit down. I pulled out my phone and saw that the counselor had texted me a couple of times with her location.

I had been worried about how slow my recovery had been going for the past few months, but in early November I had started working out with a personal trainer named Drew. My workouts had become very routine and boring before I met him. When we started working together, he helped me put a lot more variety in my workouts. He wanted me to focus on working as many body parts as possible in the hope that it would help to stimulate recovery of dormant muscle groups.

One muscle group I wanted desperately to reactivate was my left triceps. Arms had been my favorite body part to develop. Now my left arm was bent in a permanent crook. I still had residual muscle tone in my arm, but I could not develop it. I had tried all manner of things to straighten my arm: deltoid rows, triceps pulldowns, e-stim, stretching it by gripping bars and handles. As slow as this process was, it was helping me to gradually straighten my arm.

I told Drew how badly I wanted to work triceps. He decided to have me try single arm triceps pulldowns. He put a stirrup attachment on the machine. I grasped the handle. Since my hand was around chest height, he helped me pull the handle downward until my arm was extended as fully as it would go. Then he let go and had me slowly bring my hand upward. So instead of pulling down, I was to concentrate on the negative part of the exercise. It wasn’t how I wanted to do it, but I could feel my triceps firing ever so slightly.

I was able to put some of my muscle development to the test the following week when I had to go to the pet store. Climbing up the steps on the Metro Mobility bus had always been easy for me, but I often scraped the toes of my left foot on them. Now my glutes and hamstring were so much stronger that I was able to lift my toe up and over the steps without touching them. It was simple. I would kick my foot backward; lift up with my butt; then swing my foot forward over the step. When I got to the top step, it felt like I had climbed a mountain.

Once I got to the pet store, I was able to use a regular shopping cart. Since I was able to keep my left arm relatively straight, the cart didn’t deviate to one side. Thanks to the increased flexibility in my left leg, I no longer bumped the lower part of the cart with my shin. It was the easiest shopping trip I’d had in months. I boarded the Metro Mobility bus feeling like I could accomplish anything given enough time.

Later the same day, I had to take a trip far out into the suburbs to see my doctor for a referral to orthotics. I don’t normally like to go that far out of the city for anything, but that was the only place she had office visits available in November. If I wanted to get a new brace for my foot, I would have to go out there to begin the process.

Metro Mobility took me to a far corner of the suburb of Edina. It was around 2:00 and the sun was already hanging low in the sky. Instead of the bus pulling up so my door was adjacent to the door of the building, I had to climb down and walk around the front of the vehicle. A few months earlier, this would have been taxing because of slush on the ground and because of diminished cardiovascular health. Straining my muscles to stay upright would have made my heart beat faster and fear would have made breathing more difficult. Then I would have had to sit and catch my breath after I was indoors. Because of all of my work in the gym and in physical therapy, I was able to stroll into the building and all the way to the doctor’s suite.

The visit wasn’t that long, because it was largely a formality. I did a lot of walking and answered several questions. The doctor quietly took notes. Then she wrote the referral. I looked forward to receiving the new brace and going through another round of physical therapy, but I was patient. Before, I had expected something like instant, measurable improvement. But by this time, I had a more realistic view. It would take a lot of weeks of constant hard work. I was ready for the long, arduous road.

A few days later, I was in the orthotics office. The specialist was finally going to make a customized foot brace. She stripped off my sock and put a sleeve over it that ran up and over my calf. Next she ran a tube all the way down it to my toes and began packing a wet cast around my lower leg. When she was done, she let the cast dry and harden. The she pulled out the tube, explaining that the space it had created in the cast would be used to slide the scissors in and cut the cast off.

When the specialist was finished, I asked her how long it would be before my orthotic was ready. She explained that it would come in around the middle of December. She wanted me to start physical therapy around the same time. I advised that my next round of Botox injections would be January 7th, so it made sense to wait and do physical therapy after I had the brace and the Botox injections. She agreed that this would be ideal. I made an appointment to pick up the orthotic, then left to enjoy the afternoon.

Until recently, it had never occurred to me that I might need a new brace. My walking stability had improved with the initial orthotic and with exercise and therapy. I’d assumed that the goal was simply to keep strengthening my leg until I might just not need a brace one day. The therapist was preoccupied with observing my stride and finding ways to continuously improve it. I would not have come across her had I not been in physical therapy. This reinforced the fact that I did not have to “go it alone” in my recovery. Working independently is important, but so is being in a system of medical care professionals. People have to interact with you before they can assist you.

As November drew to a close, I remembered that my six-month review for social services was about to come up again. I also realized that it was time to pay my insurance premium again. So I decided to go down to the Hennepin County Services building and handle everything I needed to. Then I would be finished with submitting payments and paperwork for the entire year.

I enjoy going to the Hennepin County building, because I usually only have to go there every few months. Whenever I visit, I can feel the improvement in the amount of effort it takes me to get around. When I first began going there, I would have to rent out a wheelchair and have someone push me around. My eyesight and penmanship were so atrocious that other people had to fill out forms for me. Once I was able to walk around the building, it still took me forever, and I was perpetually tired.

This time I was so fast that the clerk didn’t realize it when I walked from the front door to the front of the line. She was still looking down at some papers when I approached the desk. I called her to get her attention, and she admitted that she thought it would take me longer to wind my way through the line.

Normally I have to make at least two trips to the 2nd floor to see my case workers. The first time they invariably tell me that I need to submit more documentation. Then I have to bring the stuff back. This time they were able to just update the paperwork using the forms I had brought and info from my phone apps. I wrote them a check for two months of insurance premiums. The whole process took less than an hour.

I had budgeted for two hours. With the time I had left, I sat there playing on social media and going over my budget. I looked at my banking app and went over the numbers again and again in my head. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t have to worry about time or money again for a while.

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